By Kimberly Blaker
One in seven kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will runaway, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Not to mention, reports the National Runaway Safeline, more than seventy percent of runaways make a spur of the moment decision. Therefore parents may see little clue their child might go missing.
November is National Runaway Prevention Month. So be aware of the causes and signs to watch for, take preventative measures, and know what to do if your child does flee.
There are numerous reasons kids runaway. Many suffer from verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Even when the situation is not as severe, often runaways feel neglected and lack financial and emotional support at home. They may also be in frequent conflict with their families. Kids might have drug or alcohol addiction problems, or are trying to escape the addictions of their own parents. Teen pregnancy puts girls at high risk to run away. Often, sexual orientation leads teens to runaway because they are rejected by their families. Foster kids frequently run back to their own families, and mentally ill youth are at high risk as well. Finally, some kids run away simply because they don’t like their parents’ rules.
Warning signs that a kid is planning to flee are not always present. Even when there are signs, most of these behaviors can have so many causes it is difficult to predict a child is considering running away. But there are some telltale signs. The most obvious is when a teen threatens do so. While it could be an attempt at manipulation in the heat of an argument, it should be treated as a serious warning sign. Your child may also start hoarding money, and valuable items might disappear from the house. You might notice your child keeps a bag or backpack filled with clothes. Your teen may also become more secretive or might start staying away from home as much as possible.
The most important thing you can do is provide your child acceptance and unconditional love. Your child should feel she is loved the same whether receiving straight ‘A’s or failing. A gay or pregnant teen needs acceptance from her family. If your teen has a drug addiction, make sure he understands that while you hate the addiction, you love him. Show you care by asking your child on a daily basis how she’s doing or how things are going, which also gives your child an opportunity to open up.
This leads into another preventive measure, communication. Make sure your child knows he can talk to you about whatever is going on. Teach him how to talk calmly and express himself clearly, and always respond in kind. Ask your teen how you can improve the situation enough so he will want to stay.
If she has actually threatened to run away, first ask what’s going on and why she wants to leave, and try to address her concerns. Then discuss the risks involved with running away and homelessness: the long-term impact of not finishing school; drug or alcohol problems that often develop; the high potential for falling victim to human trafficking; or committing crimes as a means of survival and ending up in jail or prison.
What to Do if Your Child Runs Away
- Call your local police, and make a report immediately.
- Make reports with your sheriff and state police as well as police stations in neighboring communities.
- Contact everyone your child knows, including their friends, the parents of their friends, relatives, coworkers, classmates, and school staff.
- Try to access your child’s social media accounts, school locker, and thoroughly search their room for possible clues.
- Contact their cell phone provider to see who they’ve recently called.
- If your teen has a debit or credit card, contact the bank for details of any transactions.
- Hire a private investigator.
- Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST and the National Runaway Safeline at 800-RUN-AWAY.
Kimberly Blaker is an author and freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in more than 200 parenting and women’s magazines, newspapers, and other publications throughout the U.S.
Local Resources for Help
Whether you’re someone who has runaway from home or a parent whose child has run away from home, you should know that Houston offers a wide range of resources to help keep runaways safe and help them through their individual crises. We’ve compiled a list of some of these resources here:
Harris County Sheriff’s Office: 713-221-6000
Houston Police Department: 713-884-3131
For children under 13 years of age, persons with special needs or other emergencies, dial 911.
There is NO 24-hour waiting period required to report a person missing child or adolescent.
Texas Runaway Hotline: 800-392-3352
National Runaway Safeline: 1-800-786-2929; or chat online at https://www.1800runaway.org
Texas Youth Hotline: call 800-989-6884; 512-872-5777; or chat online at
Teen Suicide Hotline: 1-866-628-7494
Teen Crisis Hotline: 713-529-8336
Texas Abuse/Neglect Hotline: 1-800-252-5400; TxAbuseHotline.org
Harris County Protective Services
6300 Chimney Rock
Covenant House (ages 18-20)
Boys and Girls Harbor
514 Bayridge Road
Youth Reach Houston
P.O. Box #9631
Depelchin Children’s Center
4950 Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77007
Family Service Center
Big Brothers Big Sisters